Talking about Slow Cinema: TURIN HORSE (Tarr, 2012)

Disclaimer: This is a continuation of a collection of my thoughts for a personal film portfolio; ideas deriving from Ira Jaffe’s Slow Movies (2014): ‘Introduction’ and Ch. 7 ‘Rebellion’s Limits’.

In a symposium in 2007 devoted to Béla Tarr’s cinema, David Bordwell stated that “we want a cinema that puts the brakes on, slows things down. What we have to start doing if we want to study film history and aesthetics of film history is to look at how different filmmakers are taking this path.” It is undeniable that in a world where technology is advancing faster than ever, the attention span of audiences is becoming shorter and shorter – films reflecting this trend. The cuts have become faster, action moving at a rapid pace, all to keep us on our feet constantly. It is thus important to examine dromology itself – the science of speed – where there social acceleration mirrors the capitalist economy’s assembly line, aiming to create rush of sensations, kinetic drive and an accessible aesthetic to the mainstream.

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But both Jaffe and Béla Tarr insist on the need to decelerate the speed of cinema, suggesting that it facilitates the investigation of major artistic and philosophical concerns. Tarr’s film Turin Horse aims to represent the ‘real’, drenching its aesthetic in a dreary black and white to reflect the utter bleakness of the events (or lack of) in the film. Not only visually, but also through minimal storytelling is this achieved – the ‘narrative’ of the film follows a father, daughter and a dying horse in an anti-genesis subversion of events towards an inevitable death. The height of the camera is constantly at eye-level, broodingly silent and inarticulate. It is here that the duration of the film is felt, whereby the use of 30 shots in the 150 minute running time echoes the continuity in real life – ensuring that the film is a real psychological process.

And yet, Tarr’s choice to challenge his audiences is no accident – he destroys his film world in the period of six long days – elongating the shots, with few cuts, almost-to-nothing action – to convey the depths of despair that come with the futility of escape. Here, Tarr emphasises the collapse of everything living, shown metaphorically through the dying tree on the hill, and the horse that “refuses to eat”. The total deterioration of living beings is depicted through the father and daughter’s unchanged routines and the slowness of their actions. The repeated event of the consumption of the steaming-hot potatoes is an occurrence which happens multiple times during the duration of the film – at times, shot from different perspectives, while still remaining stationary. It is here that Jaffe draws upon Tarr’s lack of an “affect-less manner” – where the two lone characters in the film lack expressive range and mobility. Assisted by a completed stripped back mise-en-scene, any type of elaborate or dynamic lighting and colour removes the possibility of personalising their characters – gravitating towards a stillness, a death.

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There is something akin of Tarr’s film to Beckett’s absurdist plays (see Waiting for Godot and Endgame), where the dread and inevitability of death is waiting to occur. There is a certain unbearableness to the experience of the film which is self-reflexively imposed on its audience through the film’s long duration – leaving time to contemplate and wrangle about the emptiness of life itself. It is also similar to Beckett that Tarr’s departure from the conventional artform is depicted, where his subversion of traditional structure and filmic techniques seeks to represent the real rhythms of life.

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A REFLECTION: Dead Ringers (Cronenberg, 1989)

Davis’ The Desiring Image interweaves an argument which seeks to broaden the category of queer cinema beyond classifiable gay cinema, and dislodge automatic relations within sex, gender and desire through cinematic form and structure. Notably describing the ‘first generation’ of New Queer Cinema, this view unfolds itself towards the view that desire should be an examination outside the norms of heteronormative cinema.

David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1989) echoes Davis’ advocation of Deleuzian theories of perception and desire, suggesting that Cronenberg resists gendered and sexual norms in the representation of desire. Instead, he becomes more interested in how desire transforms through the aesthetic and conceptual, shown through his exploration into the complexities which govern the connection between the brother twins, Eliot and Beverley. The breakdown of Beverley’s sibling link with Eliot, whereby the horroresque nightmare of Claire physically eating through the fleshy link between the twins, depicts a deconstruction of the binaries between the mind and body. The psychological mental state of Beverley deteriorates throughout the duration of the film, complicating the biological bond shared with Eliot – where their previous experiences

Here, Cronenberg expresses the non-singularity of identity, manifesting the brothers into twins to emphasise the shifting of individuality according to desire. This is depicted through the subtractive framing of the film, where the out-of-field shots obscures a wider frame, conveying the perceptual barriers which Cronenberg imposes upon his film. As Deleuze writes, the “subject” remains a fixture of social interpretation – where Cronenberg thus generates new structures of sexuality and desire by offering different perspectives upon a singular character. Consequently, by ignoring simplistic assumptions regarding identity, he suggests that humans do not have a “singular” identity, but rather that this reveals itself according to singular impulses.

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The bold colours, lines and limited depths of field creates a sense of cinematic desire by suggesting that it an omnipresent immanence.

While Davis’ book acknowledges the misogynistic and homophobic problems of Cronenberg’s film, it chooses to focus on the way Cronenberg is able to pose complex questions about what desire is. By deterritotorialising the model of queer cinema from heterosexual or homosexual conceptions, Davis elevates Deleuze’s notion that sex, gender and desire must defamiliarise itself as mutable and as “open-ended forces”. This is depicted through the womb, which becomes the ultimate wreckage of the brothers’ sense of an ordered whole universe. The surgery conducted by Beverley further reinforces this, where the cuts from the tools to the close-up of the surgical assistant in a crimson red aesthetic, highlights the total degeneration of traditional desire as it debauches into the unbalanced mindset of the twins.

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Yet while Davis’ argument refutes the idea that New Queer Cinema should offer a narrow lens into LGBT stories, his advocation for New Queer Cinema in relation to Dead Ringers is an early generation of the term – whereby the development of this terminology has evolved into a movement coined by B. Ruby Rich to describe queer-themed independent filmmaking. Thus, whilst it is important to examine the way Cronenberg interrogates desire beyond the realms of a heterosexual relationship, it must be noted that Dead Ringers still exists within the realm of a heterosexual white male centric universe – bringing alight some problems which prevail under Davis’ desire to universalise the term of ‘queer cinema’ towards a broader spectrum of relationships.

A REFLECTION: Palindromes (2004, Solondz)

Disclaimer: This is a continuation of a collection of my thoughts for a personal film portfolio; ideas deriving from Gerald Sim, The Subject of Film and Race (2014): Introduction ‘What Is Critical Race Film Studies?’ and Chapter 3 ‘Post-Structuralism and the Neo-Marxian Subject’.

In Gerald Sim’s book, he begins his introduction with a primal question that is asked of cinema: “is it racist?”. It is a question which still plagues the Hollywood industry today – in a culture which sees white supremacy dictate the decisions of Studios, white-washing and perpetuating a lack of diversity in films. It is here that there lies an urgency for representation as an important discussion point that needs to be addressed. Critical race theory interrogates these matters, seeking to look beyond stereotypes and to study forms of representation. It has arisen through two streams of reactions: moralistic outrage and criticism, and a formal understanding of the underlying patterns of race as a construct.

Sim’s argument in regards to Todd Solondz’s Palindromes stems from a poststructuralist second generation critical race film theory outlook, which views racism as materially determined and utilised for economic interests. He stresses the need to pay attention to economic and class struggles, suggesting that gender, sexuality and race only follow from a capitalist history of materialism. This is shown in Palindromes, where the juxtaposition between the Victor and Sunshine families depict the classist differences in livelihood, positioning it as a forefront in contrast to the neutrality of race and ages of Aviva. As a result, Sims frames race in economic terms, highlighting that material conditions shapes humanity as beings, which leads to the idea of race being a social construct.

As a result, Sims suggests that Solondz’s Palindromes works as a challenge to the social constructs which are inclined to materialise race, gender and other identity markers. Instead, Solondz focuses on human identity, elevating the sameness of an individual in all circumstances, looking beyond the labels of race. It steers away from the white patriarchal viewpoint, portraying its protagonist through 8 different actors of race, gender, size and age. In this way, Solondz ensures that his film diverts itself in stereotypes, aiming to remain unaffected by the differences of race and gender. By diverting from this Hollywood conventional voice, Solondz suggests that the inner character of a person transcends the materialist labels of society. The neutralisation of these identity markers aligns with Adorno’s emphasis on the necessity to comprehend a person’s inner being – whereby the the character stasis in the film stresses Aviva as an unchanged person (despite changing actresses) – all driven by the same motivations and emotions from beginning to end.

While Solondz’s film is tonally confusing through its indecision between comedy and gravitas, it is deliberately alienating – aiming to emphasise the universality of its thematic concerns through its changing actors. Solondz highlights the need to empower female sexual liberation and to not condemn it, interweaving this  message through the film. The use of different actresses steers away from any type of stereotypical representation of teenage pregnancy, suggesting its circumstances could happen to anyone. The stasis of the actors portraying one character is similarly reflected in the cyclical nature of the narrative – where the young girl who appears at the beginning of the film closes the film with the same mindset: “I want to have a baby“. Although Palindromes may seem tonally odd and resultantly, at times ridiculous, Solondz’s dedication to the portrayal of the authentic character of Aviva is admirably followed through to the very end.